Memoir / Essays: A Sojourn To Remember

Ipsita Ganguly

The mountains glistened golden in the sunlight. The snow-capped Himalayas looking ethereal from the plane as we flew parallel to the Kumaun and Karakoram ranges crossing the country from East to West.

I was off to the ancient land referred to as Trigarta of the Katoch kings in the Mahabharata, the seat of Indus Valley civilisation , Vedic civilisation, the battlefield of Alexander and Porus, the heart of Sikhism , and one of the major hotbeds of Indian nationalism, the land of valour and the only other state, other than Bengal, to have been brutally divided and its people cut into two in our War of Independence!

Punjab~ The land of Punj (five) Ab (waters)

The flight lands in Chandigarh, an Union Territory that serves as a capital for both Punjab and Haryana.
One of richest, cleanest, and most planned cities in contemporary India, my first impression of  Chandigarh will always be marked by the feeling that I was gulping in fresh air! The air felt healthy here. And so did the green look of the city. Le Corbusier , the French Swiss architect who designed the city and its Capitol Complex with the High Court, the State Legislative Assembly and the beautiful Hand Monument had taken inspiration from the ancient indigenous and the contemporary and designed a masterpiece.
Elements like the ramps in the high court and the Shadow monument take inspiration from ancient forts or the play of light and shadow of Jantar Mantar. And yet the look is postmodern and breathtaking.

The Hand Monument, a symbol of the city upheld the spirit to give and receive and the hand moves to the direction of the wind. The most spectacular part of the Capitol Complex undoubtedly was the giant enamelled door, made out of many panels, each panel telling a story, be it of religious unity or the length of the shadows in different seasons.

Another brilliant mascot to the city is the creation of the Nek Chand sculptures found in various parts of the city. Nek Chand ji was a road inspector for Public Works Department in the 1950s. He collected waste material from demolition sites all over the city as Chandigarh was being redesigned and rebuilt by Le Corbusier, and used his artistic sensibilities to convert waste into art. Acres and acres of land was converted to a village with sculptures of humans and animal and wells and springs and rocky pathways. This was his imagined kingdom of Sukhrani near the Sukhna lake, spread over 18 acres, today known as the famous Rock Garden of Chandigarh.

Post Coffee and Sunset at the Sukhna lake, I was embraced in the warmth of friendship and poetry and whisked off for a delightful Italian meal by friends of friends who I was meeting for the first time although it felt like I had known them forever. Pancham and Nosheen's sweetness was my welcome into Punjab.

Chandigarh is also home to beloved Lily di and Colonial Swarn. And an opportunity to convert a virtual friendship into reality. So here I was, ensconced in the friendliest elderly sisterly affection, wrapped in churni’s of love, exchanging our books, just before setting out on a humongous lunch of Dal Roti Butter chicken in the famous Pal Dhaba. We are Indians and our language of love is indeed Food!
Colonel. Swarn and Lily didi gave me the rare opportunity to visit the absolutely gorgeous Chandi Mandir Cantonment, which is the Western Command headquarters.
Amidst the tanks, choppers, aircrafts and the train that served as the headquarters in the Indo Pak war , a year after our independence, stood out the Sarva Dharma Mandir~ a common place of worship for all religions. Oh, how the civilians all over the world need to understand that religion should unite people and encourage goodness in all. And that should be the only use of religion.
Equally momentous was our visit to Nada Sahab Darbar , before I was lovingly put on the train to Jalandar and set off to visit the heartland of the land of five rivers!

Some memories stay etched forever.
Some random connects happen and linger on
Some things just come your way and live on.
And some strangers remain with you, in your heart.

One such memory, one such connect happened with me on a certain train ride from Chandigarh to Jalandar quite unexpectedly. 

Just as I boarded the train and took my seat, I saw a lady seated next to me. There was nothing extraordinary about her and yet she left me with an outstanding impression. Harminder Kaur, my companion on the train to Jalandhar was a stranger who felt like my very own.

There she was, to the apparent eye, the simplest of souls... And embodying a spirit of steel and gold!
She softly told me with iron resolve , that she has a son in Chandigarh and another in Germany and grandchildren in both places, and hence even though her husband does not like travelling, she does... and how...
She travels alone, all over the world.
That day she was travelling back from Chandigargh to Jalandhar.
But from California to Europe she travels all over, meeting a sister here or a friend there, taking in new places and people.

Harminder ji looked after me like a fond elder sister, absolutely refusing to let me pay for coffee, treating me to chips, telling me all the while that I was a guest of Punjab.
She waited with me even after we reached the station, till the time that I met my friends, and only then, did she bid goodbye
Could I have had a warmer welcome to Punjab?
My head bows in respect and love to the spirit that she embodies!
The Spirit of the truly liberated Indian Woman!
Who proudly, happily says she has two grandchildren and both are girls!
The power of simplicity!

Harminder ji, grandmother, world traveller, embodiment of warmth and hospitality, living life as an example, carving out her own identity and upholding her independent spirit even while she remains dutiful to all others.

And so I reached Jalandar and met my dear friends Brigadier Shome Banerjee and his lovely wife Suman.
And was warmly whisked into a military jeep and driven to Kapurthala where Brigadier was based.
This beautiful old town in the Doabi province of Punjab became the epicentre of it all.
The Heart of the Heartland.
A rustic real revelation.
A historic old town founded in the 11th Century by Rana Kapur, from the Royal Bhattis of Jaisalmer in Rajasthan who then later converted to the Ahluwalia Sikhs.
This was a princely state in British India.

It is around this lovely Punjabi town that there are so many holy shrines at a distance of 1 to 2 hours.
And unlike the better known cities Kapurthala embraces you with what it is... the beauty and grace of a living town going about its daily chirpiness... without the frills of extra touristic overtures!

And when this beautiful real living piece of history is graced by the presence of friends, the warmth of their beautiful homeliness, the fragrance of their garden flowers and home grown vegetables and fruits, a stroll through the maze of gullies of the town (the small gullies of heartland India tells its stories), the place embraces you in manifold ways.

I also had the privilege of savouring cantonment life, first and real time, thanks to Shome.
To stay as a guest in the Officer's Mess of the 68th Armoured Regiment was an experience of a lifetime.
Nowhere else is nationalism, dedication and discipline lived every moment than within those who puts our national protection before their lives.

I come away thinking...about the responsibilities that we the civilians need to take towards nation building. We are a young nation and we too have a duty. We have a duty to build the value system and culture of Independent India.
An inclusive culture of integrity, dedication, service to mankind and truth.
The culture quotients for which India ie Bharat has been known for ever.
And if each individual can strive towards that goal of inclusiveness, integrity and dedication, we may make our Nation proud!

You cannot be in Punjab and not get in a highway evening.
A long drive ...
And then delicious dinner at a Highway Dhaba!
Albeit a Five Star Dhaba called Haveli near Jalandhar!

But its what you encounter en route...
Like the almost full moon
And the well-meaning young Sardarji who took it upon himself to teach us how to defog the car
More than once , he made us draw up the car to the side and taught us the methodology.
Just like that
Just out of goodwill
Made us believe that goodness exists
Right here
Amidst us
On the highroads
In a Sardar heart.

The moon shone brighter than the LED lights
The oil glowed on the baturas.
Life was bright and beautiful and rustic and fancy
A paradoxical reality
Almost a mirage ... on that Highway

Punjab celebrates valour and national pride.
Something that I would like to see everywhere and in abundance.
People known for bravery.
And bravery for the right cause is beautiful.
So there is a celebration of national pride everyday at the Retreat Ceremony at Wagah Border.
Grandmothers, granddaughters, people in wheelchairs, and even foreigners celebrate our nation, India.
It's a fervour and its joyous.
And then there is the War Memorial Museum, a must visit to absorb the history of the nation and its wars as one passes on from gallery to gallery and ends it with a 7 D Animated movie on War History.
Jalianwala Bagh is a very important sacred ground, sharing the legacy of Indian Nationalism and our fight for Independence. A visit to pay tribute to those who gave their lives for our today is but a duty for us.
Although I do wish that both the War Memorial as well as Jalianwala Bagh were better maintained with Son et Lumeire  shows and a place where we could keep flowers for our martyrs as well as souvenir shops selling books and memorabilia about our wars and martyrs.
Last but certainly not the least, a visit to Amritsar has to be relished with  its delectable chana kulcha and deliciously creamy lassi
But then of course, came the most defining part of my sojourn and made it unforgettable

The sight of Harmandir Sahib or Golden Temple as it widely known takes your breath away.
Golden light emanates everywhere, and it is easily one of the best sights in India. The Golden Temple is serene as it is beautiful. It is bright and it is calm.
It is busy and it is at peace. The spirit of Seva is writ large.
It is not just the beauty of the structure; it is actually the beauty of the spirit at Harmandir Sahib.

From the wholesomeness of the Langar served to one and all, to whosoever seeks it, irrespective of caste, creed religion to the chants of
"Jo Bole So Nihal
Sat Shri Akal"
which means that he one who says (the above) will be filled with divine joy
That God ( Akal~ The one above and beyond time) is ( the real) Truth!

"Waheguru ji di Khalsa
Waheguru ji di Fateh"
which loosely translates to the people of God (Those who follows Godliness = Khalsa)
The Victory of God
~ If the people follow Godliness
Then they will be victorious
And that will be the victory of Godliness!

‘Nar i Narayan’, says Sri Ramkrishna, which means Narayan i.e. God resides in Mankind.
‘Satyam Shivam Sunderam’ and ‘Satyameva Jayate’ says the ancient Hindu scriptures.
What is true is Shiva i.e. God and is beautiful and sustains
May Truth i.e. God always be victorious.

The tenet of Service to the Godliness in Mankind
And the victory of Truth i.e. Godliness is upheld by all religions, be it Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism, Brahmo Samaj, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity or Islam.

There can be no greater teaching irrespective of which religion we follow.
Whether we call our God ~Ishwar or Allah or God or Waheguru!
Aum, Ik Aumkar, Amen or Ameen are different ways of calling upon the same Spiritual Oneness.
Do your job with sincerity to God, whatever be the path you chose to follow at the end, you go back to the same elements and become one with the same spiritual oneness.
Hence use Religion for good work, and that is the true use of Religion.

If each one of us can do this
If each one of us can realise that Religion is just a path to reach a common destination of spiritual oneness
Then truly we will have Godliness in the world.
Serve not only through donations, serve with your being.
For God resides everywhere
In every element
In every Church, Mosque, Gurdwara and Temple
And God resides also within each man.

As I flew back from Amritsar, this spirit of Harmander Sahab resounded, just as the warmth of strangers like Harminder ji and other friends lingered into today.


Bio: Former Hotelier, Business Consultant, Authour, Travel Writer, Heritage Enthusiast, Poet...Ipsita Ganguli has worn, and continues to wear many hats...but above all, she has, and will always be a student of the myriad experiences that life holds out. Ipsita writes...because she "must".

Her poems have been published in several national and international e zines and anthologies. She is also one of the main characters of the poetryfilm Kolkata Cocktail. Her solo compilation of poems ‘Of Love, Longing and Random Pondering’ is available on and in select stores all over the city. 


  1. What a spectacular write up dear Dii..
    You and your amazing penning of your journey to Panch Ab...beautiful indeed

  2. wonderful travel dairy. love this. wish you , god give you more golden ink.


We welcome your comments related to the article and the topic being discussed. We expect the comments to be courteous, and respectful of the author and other commenters. Setu reserves the right to moderate, remove or reject comments that contain foul language, insult, hatred, personal information or indicate bad intention. The views expressed in comments reflect those of the commenter, not the official views of the Setu editorial board. प्रकाशित रचना से सम्बंधित शालीन सम्वाद का स्वागत है।